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Digital Literacy in Adult Education: Where to Start? What to Use? When to Use it?

By Jose Adorno

As we ease into the academic year, agencies are making sure to incorporate a crucial element into their classroom instruction - Digital Literacy. Frameworks, curriculum, lessons, strategies, and instructional routines specific to digital literacy have been the focus of classroom instruction over the last few years. While these resources offer invaluable support to assist teachers in imparting these essential skills to our adult learners, it is still considered a challenge for many to visualize their application in the classroom. The difficulty stems from different barriers, such as language, accessibility to devices, diversity of devices, and digital resilience to name a few.

Digital literacy skills can be incorporated across all subjects just as with reading and writing skills, however, a few questions may arise. Where do you start? What can you use? When should you use it? Below are some strategies and approaches on ways to implement digital literacy skills in the classroom. Note that these strategies and techniques can be used on their own or in combination with others.

Each section is broken down to address the following questions…

  • What is it? An explanation of the strategy that is being used.

  • Why is it important? This explains the importance of presenting this strategy.

  • What does it look like in the classroom? Look at an example of how this can be applied in the classroom.


Using Leveled Readings to Initiate Conversations On Digital Literacy

💭 What is it?

Select appropriate level readings that are related to real-life skills from students. In addition to introducing the leveled text, include a digital literacy activity where learners can discuss what they use and how they complete similar tasks using digital literacy.

🗺️ Why is it important?

The use of technology is embedded in many things we do: making video calls to friends and family, communicating in family group chats, checking and paying statements, watching videos, and much more. All these activities require digital literacy skills that are applied via their mobile devices. It’s important to have common themes where we can initiate conversations naturally revolving around relevant topics for students.

🔍 What does it look like in the classroom?

A great place to start is by selecting appropriate leveled readings. We recommend you start with Bow Valley College’s ESL Literacy Readers or Reading Skills for Today’s Adults(RSTA) (access stories by level and by topic using the Marshal Leveled Reading Program app!). Both offer leveled readings that range from pre-beginner to GED levels. Let’s look at an example of a Level D reading from RSTA:

  • The story, Leasing a Car, discusses the growing popularity of car leasing and what it entails when you lease a car. Here are a few examples of how you can initiate activities around an “in-context” digital literacy activity:

    • Review the points made about leasing from the story through a class discussion. Ask students to model how they can access these online resources. Be sure to show the class by replicating the steps the students share. Facilitate the conversation by prompting specific questions, such as…

      • Where can you find information about leasing? Dealerships, manufacturing websites, social media ads, commercials on YouTube or TV, etc.

      • Can you tell if you are getting a good deal on a car? What tools and strategies do you use to find the best deals? APR calculators, comparing loan vs. lease plans, collecting information in a spreadsheet, browsing a YouTube video, asking a friend, etc.

  • Additional tools that can be used with students to expand digital literacy are:

    • Credit Karma’s APR calculator allows users to enter loan, credit, and APR information to determine the monthly payment. A teacher can model the steps from accessing the browser to interacting with the online tool and identify the components of a browser. Learners can take turns and practice narrating the steps while accessing the calculator using a mobile device, a laptop, or a desktop.

    • Lesson 4: Research Car Loans is a lesson from Google Applied Digital Skills that teaches how to use a Google Sheet spreadsheet to search for and compare loans from different dealerships. This can be adapted to include leasing as well.


Using the Northstar Curriculum to Target Digital Literacy Skills

💭 What is it?

Northstar offers 15 digital literacy modules that cover Essential Computer Skills, Basic Software Skills, and Using Technology in Daily Life Skills. In addition to the self-paced models, teachers can use the Northstar curriculum, which is available in the Resources tab when you sign in to Northstar. Here you can find the Scope and Sequence, one of many resources in the curriculum, that offers a comprehensive overview of the concepts, standards, and lessons that take part in the module.

🗺️ Why is it important?

Northstar standards offer a detailed list of how digital literacy can be observed in the classroom and provide multiple ways for learners to demonstrate their skills. They can take assessments, earn certificates, work at their own pace, or participate in teacher-guided instruction to reinforce their skills.

🔍 What does it look like in the classroom?

In this example, we will be using the Internet Basics’ Scope and Sequence from Northstar and applying it to an ESL program, Burlington English, for beginner-level students. Learners may not be ready to work independently in this scenario however, they are still able to learn some Internet Basics concepts, vocabulary, and standards based on their application of the use of technology.

  • Learners use Burlington English during class for 60 minutes a week. The teacher goes over the steps each time to have learners sign in. Using the Unit Specific Vocabulary column from the Scope and Sequence, the teacher refers to the terms aligned to the use of the technology and practices with the learners. Learners are assigned to model the steps, from opening the browser to signing in to Burlington English.

  • Additional tools that can be used with students to expand digital literacy are:

    • Adding or changing the Scope and Sequence to other suitable replacements based on the areas of focus. Some concepts from Basic Computer Skills and Google Docs can also be used to reinforce digital skills being used in these processes.

    • The Digital Skills Library offers a Digital Skills Glossary consisting of over 300 flashcards with terms revolving around digital literacy. You can download this as a Google Slides document and select the words you would like to focus on. Each flashcard includes:

      • The word

      • How to pronounce the word

      • An image depicting the word

      • A definition of the word, including its part of speech (noun, verb, etc.)

      • How to use the word in a sentence

  • Have you started implementing Northstar at your agency? Are you seeking guidance on the initial steps? Would you appreciate receiving a comprehensive document outlining the steps to take? Digital ATDN is set to provide specialized Northstar Implementation training sessions tailored for agencies and educators/students. Join us to explore strategies for customizing Northstar and maximizing its benefits according to your agency's unique requirements!

    • Northstar Implementation for Agencies on September 28, 2023, from 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM | Click to register

    • Northstar Implementation for Educators and Students on October 3, 2023, from 3:30 PM - 5:30 PM | Click to register


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